The benefits of tourism to the poor in terms of employment, livelihood opportunities, improvements in the local economy, has recently been highlighted in development practice (Ashley 2006). Specific country case studies have shown its effect in generating employment, in enhancing participation of women in the labour force, and in instigating developments in forward linkages (ODI 2007). In the Philippines, tourism is pushed as development strategy, not only to propel local growth but also to combat poverty (Turingan 2006).
Eco-tourism is one of Bohol’s primary development strategy (PPDO 2003). Its competitive advantage is the presence of the famous Chocolate Hills, white pristine beaches in its islands, diving sites, and world-class cultural attractions (Relampagos 2002). Increased investments and promotional activities in the tourism sector have caused the dramatic rise in tourist arrival in the province since 2001.Starting 2001 tourist arrival in the province has significantly increased (in 2003, foreign arrival was 18,385 while domestic was 110,514), especially when compared to 1998 base figures of 11,329 foreign and 28,958 domestic tourists The increase in arrival has fuelled increased economic activity in the capital city of Tagbilaran primarily because of the increased demand for services to cater to the rise in tourist inflow (Acejo et al 2004). Correspondingly, the increased tourist arrival was positively correlated with both increases in the number of manufacturing, service, trading and agricultural establishments as well as employment. (ibid).
Interestingly, the province has an area referred to as a ‘tourism belt’ where all major tourist destinations are situated. This spans from the island of Panglao to the town of Carmen where the Chocolate Hills can be found. The major ports of entry for local and domestic tourists are those located in the towns of Tubigon, Jagna, and the city of Tagbilaran.
Poverty incidence is relatively low in areas where the “tourism belt” and the major tourist sea ports are located, which incidentally are all in Districts 1 and 3. Acejo et al’s argument on how tourism has fuelled the growth of Tagbilaran resulting to increased employment of people may invariably be applied in this case, since unemployment statistics in the municipalities of both districts 1 and 3 are recorded as low, and have significantly decreased between the periods 2000 and 2003 (HNU-CRLG 2004).It is argued that tourism has both direct and indirect impacts to domestic production and employment (WTTC 2005). As the Bohol case shows, it has positively affected living conditions of areas where tourism activity is high. Admittedly however, establishing a solid argument on the role of tourism in poverty reduction by gauging its impact on economic growth and improvements in quality of life is still at its infancy stage and in this respect, future research in the province in this area is highly encouraged.
Tourism, for one, is heralded as one of the two primary development strategies of the province (PPDO 2003, 2006), but provincial initiatives did not go beyond promotion and ensuring infrastructure and services especially within the ‘tourism belt’. With the burgeoning tourism industry, the tourism sector has not been used as a means to benefit directly the poor by fortifying the link between local production of the predominantly agricultural province to the tourism sector. Moreover, ‘leakages’, defined as a “process where foreign exchange earnings generated by tourism is not retained by the tourist receiving country” (WTTC 2005), are neither regulated nor minimized. To illustrate, ownership by migrants, foreigners married to Filipinos, and businessmen based in Manila, of the tourist service establishments in the ‘tourism belt’ is relatively high which may have jeopardized the benefit of reinvesting tourism gains into the local economy.
So there are still questions left unanswered; whether tourism has indeed affected lives of the poor and if local investors are the ones who profit from it. This is not to advance the argument that Bohol is for Boholanos, but to argue that Bohol's development should be steered in a direction where the Boholano benefits from the tourism costs that he/she shoulders.